The European Union’s support for the Libyan coastguard is leading to arbitrary and indefinite imprisonment of migrants in “inhuman” conditions, the UN human rights chief said.
The EU anti-trafficking mission Sophia trained Tripoli’s coastguard, while Italy supplied four patrol boats. Italy also sent millions of euros and a navy repair ship to fix Libya’s marine fleet.
So far in 2017, Libyans intercepted almost 20,000 migrants at sea, according to the International Organisation for Migration. After being taken from the boats, they are brought to land and put in “detention centres” visited by United Nations personnel.
“Monitors were shocked by what they witnessed,” High Commissioner on Human Rights Zeid Ra‘ad Al Hussein said in a statement.
They saw “thousands of emaciated and traumatised men, women and children piled on top of each other, locked up in hangars with no access to the most basic necessities and stripped of their human dignity,” he said.
Some 20,000 people are now being held in facilities controlled by Tripoli’s migration department, up from 7,000 in September, the UN said in a statement.
While UN agencies and other humanitarian groups have access to them and seek to provide health care and some food, Zeid said it was not enough because “the EU and its member states have done nothing to reduce the level of abuses suffered by migrants”.
Some days ago, European and African ministers repeated a pledge to improve conditions for migrants in Libya and Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni hailed Italian immigration policy.
“Italy is the only country in Europe with a decent migration policy,” Gentiloni said. “We’re proud because we don’t build walls or close ports.”
It was Italy that struck a deal with the UN-backed government in Tripoli in February, endorsed by the EU, aimed at blocking migrants in Libya, much as the EU deal with Turkey did last year.
That agreement, combined with support for the Libyan coastguard, brought migrant sea arrivals down dramatically in recent months.
This year there have been 115,000 sea arrivals in Italy, down 31% from last year, official data from Italy’s Interior Ministry show. In October alone arrivals dropped by 76% from a year earlier.